Law Enforcement

Breck Sheriff Is One of State's Biggest Hollywood Heavyweights

Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons with actor Stephen Dorff on the set of the Fox series Deputy.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons with actor Stephen Dorff on the set of the Fox series Deputy. Courtesy of Jaime FitzSimons
Jaime FitzSimons has one hell of an IMDB page. His credits include blockbuster films such as 2016's Suicide Squad, in which Margot Robbie first played Harley Quinn, the protagonist in the just-released flick Birds of Prey, and he's worked with A-listers such as Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Jake Gyllenhaal. His latest gig is Deputy, a new drama headlined by Stephen Dorff that airs Thursdays, including at 8 p.m. tonight, February 20, on Fox.

Oh,yeah: He's also the sheriff of Summit County and, by extension, Breckenridge, which he stresses is his first priority, a "24/7 job." As a result, film and TV constitute a side hustle that he describes as "truly a fluke. It's just one of those things that took off."

True enough. During free time and vacation days that he's become a pro at saving up, FtizSimons works as a consultant for Hollywood productions and even makes occasional appearances in front of the camera, as he did in Deputy's debut episode. He played a commander who blasts Dorff's character, Bill Hollister, for failing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, only to find himself getting pink-slipped when Hollister rises to the position of Los Angeles County Sheriff.

"It's kind of a weird thing to see yourself up there," he acknowledges. "But I'm very proud of my work in the motion picture and television industry. Making movies and shows is very complicated; it's not what people think. So it's great that the people in the industry I know continually strive to get it right, especially in today's world, with so many negative narratives out there about policing."

FitzSimons is an L.A. native who grew up surfing and skateboarding. But in 1990, he joined the Los Angeles Police Department, and he spent the next fifteen years serving in various patrol capacities. His calls of duty connected him to a slew of major events, including the 1992 L.A. riots, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and that same year's O.J. Simpson murder investigation, historic 1995 flooding in Malibu, a 1997 shootout in North Hollywood and the Southern California wildfires of 2003.

Nonetheless, FitzSimons's ticket to Hollywood didn't arrive until after he'd moved to Colorado. He came to the Breckenridge area in 2005, and the next year, following a stint at Summit County's 911 center, he joined the sheriff's department as a patrol deputy.

As he moved up the departmental ranks (he became a detective before being promoted to commander of the operations division), an unusual opportunity presented itself. "A friend of mine asked me to review a script to see what I thought of the dialogue and police action," he recalls. "I gave a few notes, and it kicked off from there."

The friend in question, David Ayer, was hardly a film-biz novice. He wrote the screenplay for 2001's Training Day, for which Denzel Washington won a Best Actor Oscar, and after FitzSimons wrote Ayer an admiring letter about the pic, the pair connected. Ayer later got an opportunity to direct 2008's Street Kings, a Reeves vehicle derived from a script that had started out as a project by novelist and past Westword profile subject James Ellroy, and he thought FitzSimons would be just the man to make sure the results were realistic.

click to enlarge Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons's official portrait. - SUMMIT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons's official portrait.
"I was the technical adviser, and I also got a part as an LAPD captain," he recalls. "I eventually joined the Screen Actors Guild, and I've been a member ever since."

Ayer has called on FitzSimons's expertise multiple times over the decade-plus since then, using him in assorted capacities on the likes of 2014's Sabotage (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Fury (with Pitt), and the 2017 Netflix staple Bright (with Smith). But he has a special fondness for another item in Ayer's filmography, 2012's End of Watch, co-starring Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. "It's my story," he says. "A lot of it was loosely based on a lot of my history with the LAPD, and the characters were loosely based on me and my partner. I didn't write any of it, but I worked closely with David and worked with the actors on character development, which was really a lot of fun. It turned out to be a really therapeutic outlet. I've been able to work out some things I've experienced over my thirty-year career in law enforcement. I leave a little piece of that in each of these characters."

Not that Ayer has been FitzSimons's only movie-related employer. He also consulted on 2013's Prisoners, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and 2014's Nightcrawler, helmed by Dan Gilroy; both films boasted turns by Gyllenhaal. "I think you start to build a reputation," he explains. "Especially with police TV shows and movies, the bar is continually being raised because of audience expectations. So there seems to be a trend to find people with law-enforcement experience to provide technical advice on these productions."

At the same time, he reveals that he's hardly addicted to the kinds of offerings in which he has participated. "I really don't watch those kinds of shows," FitzSimons concedes with a laugh. "People will ask me, 'What did you think of this show or movie or character?' And I'll say, 'I'm not really a movie guy.' For one thing, when I work with actors, I don't want to know too much about them or have any bias about them; I like it to be a clean slate. But also, I've lived this life for thirty years. I don't need to come home from work and watch it on TV."

Likewise, he understands the necessity for creative compromise. "There's a difference between a documentary and a movie that's built for entertainment. You might see a police movie and it's all action from beginning to end, but policing isn't always like that," he explains. "And some things will have to be sacrificed to keep the narrative going. So there are times when I'll give some advice and it won't necessarily be followed. It's not that they don't want to get it right. There's also an entertaining, Hollywood aspect, which I definitely understand. It's fascinating watching a film come together, and I really enjoy being a part of it."

In 2016, Breckenridge voted to make FitzSimons sheriff, and when he ran for reelection two years later, his opponent made his second career an issue; the Summit Daily reported about one appearance at which an audience member attempted to heckle him by branding him "Hollywood!"

But FitzSimons believes that his side gig is compatible with his job as sheriff. "What I'm doing supports our community in a way, because I'm able to go all over the place and talk about Summit County and what we're doing here," he says. "People in Hollywood all want to know about my job as a sheriff and the community where I work. I get to tell them about the awesome programs we're putting into effect and the awesome people of Summit County. That provides a lot of community capital, and it puts our community on the map."

And onscreen.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts